We’ve been talking a fair bit lately about our paidContent Live conference in New York on April 17, because we are pretty excited about our speakers — from Guardian editor-in-chief and “open journalism” advocate Alan Rusbridger to Tumblr founder David Karp, and everything in between. The latest addition to the roster is Tim Ferriss, author of books like The 4-Hour Body, and someone who has also pushed the boundaries of publishing by doing distribution deals with everyone from Amazon to the file-sharing network BitTorrent.
Ferriss will be taking part in a panel looking at how some individual writers and media creators have become independent media entities in their own right, and have been able to carve out a healthy living for themselves outside of the traditional industry channels set up by the book, magazine or newspaper industries — and what the benefits and disadvantages of that approach are.
Unlike some of our panelists, Ferriss has always been an independent operator: he first appeared on the scene in 2007 with his book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” and then quickly followed that with other books applying the same approach to health and cooking. Ferriss has built his following on social media into a powerful publicity engine, and is also showing other authors some potential routes for success: according to Ferriss, BitTorrent — normally thought of as a source of pirated content — drove more clicks to Amazon than any traditional ad has.
Sullivan, Ross Sorkin and Maria Popova
Blogger Andrew Sullivan, who is also on our paidContent panel, is another poster boy for the independent media movement: Sullivan recently embarked on a closely-watched experiment by quitting the Daily Beast to launch his own standalone site, funded entirely by his readers. For Sullivan, this move is a return to his past in a sense — he was an independent blogger early in his career and tried the self-funding route before joining The New Republic, followed by The Atlantic and then the Beast.
Also on the panel is Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times writer who also appears regularly on CNBC and other outlets, and has created a booming enterprise for himself within the NYT by building his DealBook blog into a multi-faceted entity with a conference and other elements. Hopefully Sorkin will tell us whether he has thought about taking the same route as Andrew Sullivan and becoming truly independent, and why he has so far decided not to do that.
And rounding out our panel is blogger/curator extraordinaire Maria Popova, who has built her blog Brain Pickings into a destination for hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, who help support her both through donations and by clicking on affiliate links to Amazon when she mentions a book. Although this approach caused some controversy recently, Popova has been able to make a living solely from blogging, without any help from traditional media channels.
Is this kind of approach viable for anyone, or are Sullivan and Ferriss and Popova exceptions? Are there benefits to remaining inside a traditional entity like the New York Times, the way Sorkin has, that outweigh the benefits of being independent? And will more writers and other creators choose to stay independent or become so in the future, thanks to the social web and platforms like Kickstarter? Those are some of the questions we hope to ask at paidContent Live. Please join us.
This post was revised on April 8 to clarify that Tim Ferriss has not self-published his books. Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user seanosh